My relationship with my mother was not always cordial. As an adult, I was mostly polite and cooperative while in her presence, and I acknowledged her talents and skills. I also tended to keep the distance between us. Sometimes that was physical distance, and sometimes a more metaphorical distance, simply by engaging in surface communication only. For a long time, we did not truly communicate. It is easy to give reasons and rationalizations, but the truth is that for many years, there was no real communication between us. It was only toward the end of her life that I – not quite sure how – came to the conclusion that the distance was not what was needed and opened to communication. I called her every week and really listened. She came to expect these calls, and during those times I came to know her better than I ever had before. I saw in her what is in all of us, a child that really wants comfort and reassurance, and a sense of being loved. I was with her at the end, and am glad that I made the choice to open to communication.
On a completely different note, I recently read an article by Kelly Brogan, MD, a holistic psychiatrist who practices in New York, and author of the book a Mind of Your Own. Dr. Brogan makes a case for the possible connection between an increase in prescriptions for psychiatric drugs/medications and the increased violence we see around us, including homicides and suicides. She postulates that in many cases, depression is quite curable without medication; such a cure, however, does require deep communication between patient and therapist, and between patient and him or herself. We look at guns as the cause, and fail to address the issues that promote violence. Guns are replaceable by other dangerous weapons if the incentive to violence is not removed.
Politically, we are also engaged in a lot of noise but little communication. No one, it seems, is listening to anyone else. Everyone, it seems, is promoting his or her opinion, right or wrong, depending on one’s viewpoint. True, our system of voting requires less of a listening skill and more of a oratorical skill, as the loudest or most populous group will win over its rivals. However, has anyone listened to the needs of the defeated groups? How can a one-sided decision last in its implementation? Often, it doesn’t, and the process is repeated sans fin. In the still marginal but rapidly growing social organization called community, another way of decision making is prevalent. It is called consensus, agreement by all parties concerned. It does often take time to arrive at a consensus, but it is certain that a great deal of listening has been done before arriving at that point. In order to arrive at consensus, the group must truly communicate.
The Old Testament tells the story of a nation that wanted to build a tower that reached to the perceived abode of God. However, this nation had not yet grown into a people who fully embraced justice and equal respect for each being. In order to prevent them attaining their stated goal prematurely, their language was confused. Suddenly, many groups of workers were speaking different languages, and no one could understand each other. In other words, their communication was removed. The people sank into chaos and discord.
Take time for a moment to envision a world that embraces justice and acknowledgement of the value of one’s fellow beings; imagine that world without the senseless and random violence of today. Imagine it as a world in which the needs of all are met. Certainly, for that, changes of heart are necessary, and expansion of thought paradigms beyond a simply secular world. However, in order to facilitate this envisioned world, it is necessary to communicate.
That is a grand vision, a macrocosm. However, communication in the microcosm is equally important. How well do we listen to the ones we love? How well do we seek to meet the needs of everyone in our smaller groups, not one sacrificed to the others, nor the needs of the most powerful being met first? How well do we listen to the less admired parts of ourselves – parts which often have messages we need to hear? Change starts small and grows. It starts with the level of the individual.
Let’s try an experiment. In the midst of our busy, noisy world, let us try to take a few moments each day to really listen to someone – person or written material – with which we disagree. Let’s see if we can truly hear what the other is saying. It is not necessary to agree, just to listen. It is not necessary to launch a rebuttal, just listen. That is the start of communication. From there, ways of meeting our needs along with the needs of those with whom we disagree can be created. It is practice for the gentler world I think we all want.